This is part of a series from education blogger Laura Waters of NJ Left Behind.
The Democratic National Committee got its primetime spin this week as President Obama and other luminaries made a pitch for a second term, a week after the GOP’s turn in the sun. This presidential campaign has offered the equivalent of a starvation diet for education mavens, with little or no attention devoted to prime issues of accountability, school choice, and America’s daunting internal and external student achievement gaps.
The education menu at the GOP Convention last week was predictably sparse. Here’s three nights worth: unions are bad (via speeches from Chris Christie and Condoleezza Rice) and local control is good. (Examples of the latter include antipathy towards the new set of national curricular standards called the Common Core, which was approved by 46 governors, and calls to cut funding to or eliminate the U.S. DOE.)
But one night into the DNC coronation (the rest was post-deadline for this blog), education advocates were gluttonously loosening their belts. First, a fiery speech by Newark Mayor Cory Booker called education America’s “most critical investment,” initiating a theme echoed by subsequent speakers. Gov. Deval Patrick discussed the importance of education reform principles in improving poverty-stricken schools. A keynote speech by Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, eloquently attributed much of his (and his twin brother’s) professional and academic triumphs to the role of the federal government in public education and cited the importance of preschools. That was all before Michelle Obama.
Famine or feast, right?
It’s no surprise that education is not a top GOP concern: it’s the economy, stupid. And common wisdom is that there’s not much that divides the two parties in the increasingly bipartisan area of education reform. As New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel noted in a recent column,
“The challenge for Mr. Romney is that many of the ideas he touched on — increasing the number of charter schools, holding teachers more accountable for student success — have already been adopted by the Obama administration, whose education policies have all but co-opted traditional Republican positions.”
That’s true. But the juxtaposition of the conventions reveals a key difference between the parties. The GOP – perhaps more in thrall to the Tea Party contingent than it cares to admit – is committed to lessening the role of federal accountability standards and cutting aid. After all, nothing tops local control and states’ right. The DNC, however, wholeheartedly endorses the importance of federal oversight in improving national educational opportunity and achievement.
This difference is even more apparent in the parties’ official platforms. While the DNC platform adheres pretty closely to Convention content, the GOP platform is far more extreme than its Convention indicated. From the GOP platform:
“American education has, for the last several decades, been the focus of constant controversy, as centralizing forces outside the family and community have sought to remake education in order to remake America. They have not succeeded, but they have done immense damage.”
“We know what does work, what has actually made a difference in student advancement: …renewed focus on the Constitution and the writings of the Founding Fathers and an accurate account of American history that celebrates the birth of this great nation.
“In sum, on the one hand enormous amounts of money are being spent for K-12 public education with overall results that do not justify that spending…We support its concept of block grants and the repeal of numerous federal regulations which interfere with State and local control of public schools.”
From the platform’s Preamble: “Trust the people. Limit government. Respect federalism. Guarantee opportunity, not outcomes. Adhere to the rule of law. Reaffirm that our rights come from God, are protected by government, and that the only just government is one that truly governs with the consent of the governed.”
This recipe – education spending cuts, diminished oversight, encomia to American exceptionalism, religious overtones – may make the Tea Party happy. The average American? Not so much.
Laura Waters is president of the Lawrence Township School Board in Mercer County. She also writes about New Jersey’s public education on her blog NJ Left Behind. Follow her on Twitter @NJLeftbehind.